As I said at the end of the entry before last, I spent last weekend in the delightful town of Dover, visiting my old school, but more importantly meeting up with friends old and new, some of whom I hadn't seen for years.
Unfortunately, things didn't go completely according to plan. As you are all aware, Hannah had been in hospital the day before we were due to go and there had been some question as to whether we would actually be going or not. However, m'Julie decided that she would be going.
At least she did until we actually set off and were about ten miles from home when she decided that she wanted to actually stay with Hannah and I had to turn around.
I was then unsure as to whether I would actually go, as I was uncomfortable at the prospect so soon following the surgery, and I had a total sense of humour failure.
However, I did go, but because of the delay, I had to make my way there in the dark and rain, which did not help my mood improve. I got there about an hour later than planned and made my way to the hotel, which had been chosen as it does a special deal for the Old Boys.
A little bit about the hotel. The hotel is located on the main road to the Port of Dover. It was obviously built in the 1960s, as this was when that much concrete would have been popular, and it is unlikely that it will be there in a year's time, as that part of Dover is apparently being re-developed and all the concrete monstrosities are being pulled down, which also means that many of the pubs that I used to frequent as a (possibly underage) teenager are also to disappear.
I'd never stayed in the hotel before, but many years ago had sat in the bar during the early hours of a Remembrance Sunday with others who were, but my memories of the place were befuddled owing to the alcohol that we'd consumed, but not to the extent that my memories of it being somewhat 'basic' were completely wiped out.
When I actually booked in, I was immediately convinced that I had been set-up, as I was handed my key and discovered that I was booked into Room 101! At this point, I was joined by Neil and Sean, fresh from the Rugby Club, who also suspected a set-up when they found out my room number.
Room 101 turned out to be a family room, and unfortunately, even though m'Julie had decided not to attend, I was still charged full price. Being a family room meant that in addition to the double bed, there was also a set of bunk beds, located directly in front of the heater. These bunk beds were very heavy, and due to the events of 7 weeks ago, I was unable to move them and so get to the heater and turn it on. This was unfortunate, as there was a sliding 'patio-type' door next to this, which rather than opening onto a balcony, opened onto what can only be described as a fenced-in ledge. I'm sure that at some point the door would have fitted the frame, but sadly, that is no longer the case. The wind whistling across the Channel blows through all of the cracks, making the room colder, and I was to later discover that the other disadvantage to this was that all traffic passing along the busy road to and from the docks could be heard very clearly in the room.
Having dumped all my stuff in the room, I made my way downstairs and bumped into Dave, whom I hadn't seen for a few years, so we sat in the lobby reminiscing and looking out for familiar faces as they arrived. We then heard rumours that two of the people that we'd been waiting for, Stan and H were already upstairs in their rooms, so we decided to visit, disturbing H's watching of Strictly Come Dancing. We also made the mistake of deciding to gate crash Neil's room. Unfortunately, minutes before we arrived, he had obviously visited the bathroom. Now whether it was something he'd eaten or not, we don't know, but we were all forced to beat a hasty retreat to Sean's room.
Now what's happened over the last few years, although I haven't been able to get there due to Squadron commitments, is that Stan and H put on a private party in a pub, and this year was no exception.
The pub in question is located in the area that is to be 're-developed', and in fact has been closed for some time, only opening for our entertainment on Saturday. It had also been burgled a few days before and the keys to the patio doors had been taken so Neil was a little concerned about fire regulations.
Stan had done a superb job and the karaoke was already going when we arrived, and it wasn't long before the few of us that had arrived were joined by many many more, and the pub was soon packed, and the chilli that was served at about 9 was gratefully received.
However, the big disadvantage was that it was impossible to speak to anyone as the music was so loud, which meant that I spent much of the evening by the door, particularly when Alex, whom I hadn't seen since 1992, arrived.
In fact, the last time that Alex and I had seen each other was when he was at my eldest son's christening in Exeter, so he was somewhat surprised to hear that that baby is now doing A-Levels with the intention of joining the Army.
Although I was enjoying myself and catching up with people, the events of this year soon caught up with me, and at 10.30 my body let me know that it was way past my bedtime, and I had to retire back to the hotel.
Once back at the hotel, I discovered a couple of other minor problems with my room, as before getting into bed I had to trawl the room for every pillow, there being only one very very thin pillow per person, and when I had made my coffee and settled into bed to watch some TV before going to sleep, I discovered that the remote control didn't work.
Even when I'd settled down I couldn't sleep as the room was very cold, the bedding inadequate, and the traffic very loud. Despite going to bed before 11, I was awake until after 1am.
My call at 8 woke me up, and I discovered the big advantage over previous years. Normally, these affairs are very alcoholic, and although for most people this year was no exception, for me, who had been drinking coke for most of the night it meant that I was fresh and awake when I woke up, without the slightest trace of a headache.
At this point I discovered that the hotel had also obviously been designed with 'little people' in mind, as I had to kneel to get under the fixed shower head. However, breakfast was good, even if my companions were all feeling a little sorry for themselves.After breakfast, it was off to the school and meeting up with more people that I hadn't seen for some time, before parading up to the cenotaph for the Last Post and two-minutes silence, and then the march past, which proved that although some of those parading had left the school before I was born, we could all still march better than most of the kids that are currently at the school.
As I did for most of my time at school, I avoided chapel (too much risk of lightening strike) and retired to the assembly hall for coffee and more remembering, although I have to say that the turnout from our year was quite disappointing (less than 10% according to Stan), which is born out by the 'Class Photo'.
l-r Alex, Tones, Adi, Stan, Dave, Carlton, Me
We then made our way to a local pub for lunch before the journey home. I was also able to warn them all about the bread sauce! The last time that I had been in this pub was last year when m'Julie and I had taken the kids to Deal Castle. We had decided to have a Sunday lunch at the carvery in the pub. After getting the meat and veg, there were sauces, including what appeared to be bread sauce. Now I love bread sauce, so helped myself with a will. It was only when we had all sat down and I took the first mouthful of my dinner that I discovered that it was a strong horseradish rather than bread sauce.
After we'd had lunch it was time to say goodbye. It’s very strange, as although most of us communicate on a daily basis, by phone, text or t'internet, this is usually the only weekend that we're all together. We were also aware that there were many of our friends who were absent, for whatever reason, and they were also in our thoughts, particularly those in warm sandy places.
I'm lucky, as, apart from Dave, I am probably the nearest, which is just as well, as when I got home, my first stop was bed, and I slept for most of the afternoon and early evening (comfortable and warm!) and still slept on Sunday night.
The days since then have been recuperation days, and I've done nothing too strenuous, mainly catching up on the recorded programmes, although I did watch the service from the Cenotaph on Tuesday.
Three of the four surviving British veterans of the First World War were present, Bill Stone representing the Royal Navy, Harry Patch representing the Army and Henry Allingham representing the Royal Air Force, the youngest being 108, the oldest 112. I did find it rather sad to see Henry Allingham, struggling unsuccessfully to lay his own wreath. Apparently, he had been determined to do so, despite being the oldest, but eventually he had to relent and allow it to be laid on his behalf.
Again, it will be busy this weekend as Drew and Maggie are staying from tomorrow evening, although, as I'm picking up Wrath of the Lich King for Drew tomorrow, I probably won't see much of him.
Just before I go, I must thank Stan for allowing me to use the still photos that you see, as I'm in none of the photos that I took, and also to Neil for filming on Sunday when I was parading.